When her deep navy blue eyes meet yours, you feel overwhelmed with loving feelings. Her tiny bottom is just soooo cute, and you simply can’t resist blowing raspberries on her tummy. In fact, you are so devoted to her you couldn’t possibly entertain a single thought for anybody else – even your partner.
But not so long ago, you probably solemnly promised each other that “a baby won’t change OUR relationship”. And the truth is that once a baby enters your life, your relationship with your partner will never be the same again. Ever. And there are things about losing those loving feelings that even your closest friends will probably never tell you (you probably wouldn’t believe them – or want to believe them - if they did). For instance:
• Foreplay can be reduced to “are you awake?”, and sexual responsiveness can diminish to “I’m asleep, but feel free to help yourself.”
If you don’t yet have a baby, think of how tired you were in the first trimester of pregnancy, then multiply it by any number from 10 upwards. Exhaustion can have a ripple effect on your relationship. Be kind to yourself. Recognise the high price to your family of unrealistic housekeeping standards. Learn to rest when your baby sleeps (do housework with baby in a sling when she’s awake so you don’t feel ‘guilty’ about snoozing during the day). Say no to invitations that will be tiring, and discuss sharing the load with your partner (or anybody else who looks willing and able, even if you have to pay them). For some tips to help your baby (and you) get more sleep, check out the book Sleeping Like a Baby.
• ‘Spontaneity’ won’t happen without careful planning.
You won’t just have to make plans for ‘spontaneous’ lovemaking; everything from a walk in the park to dinner for two or a dash to the bank will require forward planning. On the other hand, you could also be forced to learn the real meaning of spontaneity, so seize the moments and make them special.
• You’ll discover the true meaning of the term ‘coitus interruptus’.
This is not just a family planning method for teenagers and optimists. When you do get around to making love, even if your baby is soundly sleeping, you can bet your boots she’ll yell just as you get to the moment of bliss. This waking seems to have little to do with hunger, noise or movement, and more to do with primitive survival response. It’s probably related to the same deep connection between a mother and baby that has a mum waking from a deep sleep just before her baby stirs, or triggers a milk letdown as her baby cries – even if she’s up the street and her baby is at home. Try making love when baby is awake, as you’re less likely to be interrupted. Little (immobile) babies can be easily amused by a (safely placed) flickering candle-light (bonus: it’s flattering to ‘mummy tummies’ too!).
• It’s not only lovemaking that will be interrupted – your train of thought will seem permanently derailed by baby demands.
This can be a challenge, especially if you’re having a deep and meaningful conversation with your partner. But with experience you’ll learn the valuable skill of maintaining your thread of conversation and be able to pick up discussions exactly where they left off with the same emotional intensity.
• He wants sex. He thinks that making love to you will reassure you his feelings for you haven’t changed. You feel all “touched out” after giving to a baby all day. You see sex as one more demand. You want cuddles but you withdraw because you know cuddles will lead to sex. He withdraws because he doesn’t want to pressure you, or he feels rejected.
You both need to be nurtured, and to maintain your close connection with each other. Before a baby came, lovemaking was probably the main expression of your connection for each other, and now you may need to find other ways to stay close. Try cuddles, a massage, and a meal together, without pressure to have sex. Understanding and respect for each other’s feelings will see passion return at a greater level than if resentment is left to simmer, or you simply drift apart.
• Jealous feelings aren’t just for left-out dads or usurped toddlers.
Most dads feel irrational when they realise they’re jealous of their own helpless offspring having their needs met, but at least guys’ feelings are acknowledged. You may have similar twinges of the green-eyed monster as your partner gives all his adoration to the little babe and seems to hardly notice you, especially if he takes to calling you “Mummy” (heaven forbid!). Feelings of jealousy (for either partner) can be due to a deep psychological awakening that could be echoes of early experiences of sibling rivalry or unsupported needs. Share your feelings with your partner, talking about what you need to feel supported (like reminding him you do have a name!). It’s also important to be able to say “that’s not really supportive” without either partner being offended.
• Resentment, jealousy's cousin, can be a big dampener on relationships.
You feel trapped as you see him driving off to work, joining the real world. He feels trapped as he drives off to work, ‘knowing’ you have a free day to meet friends for coffee or lunch. In spite of rational role planning, emotions play havoc if you can’t empathise with each other’s adjustments. It’s never too late to develop good communication skills, but it’s best to practise BEFORE the baby comes along. This is because when we’re under stress, it’s all too easy to fall back on bad habits, like shouting and screaming, rather than listening and respecting each other’s feelings.
• Sometimes it helps to ask for help.
Most of us plan for practical and physical support when we’re having a baby. But we need to acknowledge that there will be profound changes to our relationships and see support for this as legitimate too. Talk during pregnancy about how infancy and childhood was for you, and try to understand what feelings may arise. You can then discuss “how can we share these feelings?” and “do we have friends we can have these conversations with?” If you feel dissatisfied, distrustful, or can’t talk any more, outside help should be called for. It may just take a couple of sessions with a counsellor to set you on the right track. It’s not a slur on your ability to cope, but may save your relationship.
Pinky McKay is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and best-selling author of four titles published by Penguin, including Parenting By Heart and Sleeping Like a Baby. She owns a busy private practice in Melbourne specialising in gentle ‘no cry’ techniques to support parents with unsettled babies and breastfeeding problems.
Pinky is holding Baby Sleep and Toddler Tactics seminars in Sydney and Melbourne. Book your place now.